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B.C. government names members of minimum wage commission

Rob Shaw, Postmedia Network

Labour Minister Harry Bains (right) appointed economics professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen (left) as chair of the new Fair Wages Commission, to determine how quickly B.C. will move to a $15 an hour minimum wage. (Rob Shaw/Postmedia Network)

Labour Minister Harry Bains (right) appointed economics professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen (left) as chair of the new Fair Wages Commission, to determine how quickly B.C. will move to a $15 an hour minimum wage. (Rob Shaw/Postmedia Network)

VICTORIA — The B.C. government has appointed an academic, a labour unionist and a business representative to a three-person commission designed to move the province to a $15-an hour minimum wage.

Labour Minister Harry Bains appointed named the panelists on Thursday: Marjorie Griffin Cohen, an economist and Simon Fraser University professor emeritus who helped establish the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C.; Ivan Limpright, the former president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; and Ken Peacock, the vice-president and chief economist of the Business Council of B.C.

Cohen will chair the group. The trio has 90 days to produce a report on how the province should transition to a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Bains said the goal is to provide a gradual, predictable, common-sense schedule to increase the current $11.35-an-hour minimum to $15 over however many years the panel recommends.

The NDP campaigned on a $15 minimum by 2021 during the election, but abandoned that after the Greens — which have a power-sharing deal that gives the NDP the votes necessary to govern — argued it prejudged the commission's work.

“We are going to depend on the wisdom of the commission, I think it is best left up to them," said Bains. "It's arm's-length from government. We want to depoliticize this."

Cohen said panelists will meet to decide how it will gather comment from workers, businesses, and the public during a consultation process, which will likely involve travelling the province.

B.C.'s small-business community, which says it's most at risk from minimum wage increases, chastised government for excluding it from the panel.

"We're a little bit disappointed," said Richard Truscott, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"We will try to be the voice for small business entrepreneurs during this debate and put forward the case they need to proceed very carefully and with a lot of thought. But we are worried the legitimate concerns of small business are going to either be ignored or misunderstood."

The government has given the commission a budget of $490,000 over two years, for travel, consultations, research, advisory services and salary. The Labour Ministry would not provide the exact amount of salary.

After it produces the report on a timeline, Bains said, the commission will go on to consider the gap between the minimum wage and a "living wage" in the province.

rshaw@postmedia.com